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January 2001 By Jennifer Soong
Sometimes finding a more balanced life means taking a chance. These three women did—and are thrilled with the results.
Indulge in this fantasy for a moment: You’re going to win the lottery tomorrow (Okay, so you didn’t buy a ticket. Never mind.) What will you do with all that cash? Buy a luxury home in Florida and retire early? Open a little café? Hire a personal trainer and a maid, and spend your days on a chaise lounge, saying “dahling” a lot?
If only we made more money, if only we had more time, if only we could do the work we really dream about. Most of us have envisioned what our lives would look like if practical considerations didn’t get in the way. But these three women stopped waiting for their luck to change and changed it themselves.
By setting their plans in motion, these women made their dreams come true. Sure, they faced headaches, left turns, and oh-no-this-can’t-be-happening moments. But by taking a risk they reaped countless rewards–at work and at home. Their happiness spilled over to every aspect of their lives. So stop buying lottery tickets. And start living your dreams.
Ever since spending their 1987 honeymoon in a farmhouse outside Rome, Diane Epstein, 44, a therapist, and her husband, Alan, 51, a writer, had vowed to one day return to Italy to stay indefinitely. But eight years went by and they found themselves running a rapidly growing matchmaking business in the San Francisco Bay Area and raising two sons, Julian and Elliott, then 6 and 3. Their dream of Italy seemed far-off.
“Our business was very stressful,” Diane says. “It was getting really big, and we were getting more and more rooted in California. When we finally thought about what we really wanted, it was so clear what we had to do. We started saying, ‘Okay, we’re moving to Italy in the fall,’ even though we had to think about our kids, our business, and our house. But we realized it’s like having children. There’s never really a right moment; you just have to take the plunge.”
So the Epsteins found a school near Rome for their kids and plunked down a deposit on an apartment there. They hired a manager to run their business in the United States, packed up and headed to Italy with the kids. Diane planned to counsel other expatriates; Alan would concentrate on his writing. That was five years ago. “Before, I felt like my life was about other people,” Diane says. “Now my life is my own. I’ve actually been able to live my dream. And it only gets better.”
When she almost threw in the towel: “It was very stressful at first,” Diane recalls. “All of my husband’s clothes were lost on the way over, we had three minor car accidents during our first month in Rome, and we had to sell our matchmaking business because the person we’d hired to run it turned out to be untrustworthy. Most people probably would have gone home—and the thought certainly crossed our minds—but we loved our new home too much.”
Biggest surprise: How their careers have taken off. ‘My counseling is better than ever,” says Diane. “I feel much more at ease because I’m living the life I want. So it’s easier to help other people get where they want to be.” After rediscovering her passion for photography, Diane began taking photos for the walking tours of Rome her husband leads (yes, he’s living his dream too). Fringe benefits: “What I love about my life in Italy is the pace. It’s much slower than America’s, and you never feel like you’re in a hurry. We get to spend a lot more time with the kids. Our lives are very balanced now.”
Starring on the award-winning TV drama NYPD Blue certainly sounds like a dream gig. And in fact, Andrea Thompson, 41, who played hard-nosed detective Jill Kirkendall, calls the role the highlight of her acting career (she has also had roles on JAG andFalcon Crest). But after four seasons on the show she was feelingBlue, in every sense of the word. “I was working for two months straight without a day off,” she recalls. “If you don’t have time for friends and family, you’re really out of whack. I had gotten to that point.” The clincher: One day Thompson’s 8-year.old son, Alec, asked if it was okay if he called the nanny Mommy too. “That made me think, Wow, what am I doing here? I’m missing out on all the good stuff.”
Thompson decided not only to make more time for her family, but to follow her other childhood dream; to become a TV reporter She hired a journalism coach to teach her the finer points of broadcast media; a year later, in June 2000, she left NYPD Bluefor a job at a CBS affiliate in Albuquerque, NM.
The transition wasn’t easy: Her peers in the media were wary of an actress taking up journalism. But she’s earned kudos for her work ethic, which shows up in her stories, on everything from crime to natural disasters. Best yet, she’s usually home by seven. “I make a lot less money, and it’s not as glamorous as Hollywood,” says Thompson. “But that’s what I like about it. I can’t imagine most actors wanting to go this route. But for me, it was exactly the right thing at exactly the right time.”
Scariest moment: “When I First got to Albuquerque. At first I thought, What have I done? But all the greatest things in my life have been like that. You don’t know what’s going to happen, but that makes it exciting.”
Fringe benefits: “Change makes you appreciate everything. I had a house in Bel Air with a beautiful view, but I wasn’t happy – Now a Subway sandwich after we’ve been chasing a story tastes like foie gras And I’ve never been happier”
While living in Chicago, MaryAnn Nelmark, 33, and her husband, Tate, 35, worked in corporate middle-management positions: She was a customer service manager at a publishing company, he was a CPA. But their jobs were simply means to an end: buying and running a dairy farm.
Yes, a farm. As in cows. As in “set the alarm for 4a.m.”
“My husband’s relatives have always been dairy farmers, so he always had the itch,” laughs MaryAnn. “I was born and raised in the city, so it was total culture shock at first. But after I visited his grandparents’ farm, I fell in love with the idea. In the middle of the night, you hear cows mooing. The peacefulness really drew me in.” From then on, she says, “anything extra we made—every penny—went to saving money to buy cows.”
While their plans sounded bizarre to their Chicago friends and neighbors, the Nelmarks kept their eye on the beef and in 1993, after two years of careful planning, purchased 40 heifer calves and stashed them on Tate’s parents’ farm in Minnesota. By 1995, the cows were ready to be milked. Tate moved to the farm first to set up the operation; when MaryAnn got pregnant they postponed her move for practical reasons (she needed to keep her health insurance). It turned out they spent a long two years living apart. Still, says MaryAnn, “One or two years is worth it if you know in the long run you’re going to be working side by side all the time.” In 1997, MaryAnn and their son, Tale Jr., now 3 1/2, came to Minnesota. (They now have another baby, Natalie, 1.) Their farm has expanded to include more than 200 cows, 100 calves, and some 800 acres. “I know more about cows and crops than I ever dreamed I would,” says MaryAnn.. “But I can’t imagine calling anyplace else home.”
Biggest challenge: “The hardest thing is being away from the amenities of city life, where a grocery store is five minutes away. Here we’re 20 miles from everything!”
Best part of her new life: “We were making more money in (Chicago, but now we love what we’re doing. Not many jobs let you eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner together every day.”
Pangs of dissatisfaction with your daily routine can be a sign that your life needs shaking up. Valerie Young, creator of the Changing Course website (www.changingcourse.com), knows this firsthand. “The wake-up call for me was when my mother passed away suddenly,” Young says. ‘She was 61 and about to retire. That made me realize that you can’t put you dreams on hold.” Young quit her high-pressure marketing job to launch her own business, geared toward helping other people switch careers. Here, her tips to inspire you:
YOUR JOB DOESN’T DEFINE YOU. You define it.
Before you start looking for the job you want, ask yourself what sort of schedule you’d like, what environment you’d like to work in, and how your family fits in.
DON’T SAY “CAN DO.” Say “I would love to do.”
Dreaming of living in Florence, only to be jarred awake by the pesky fact that your knowledge of Italian stops at “ciao”? Nonsense. Whether the language you need to learn is French or HTML, you need to say “anything is possible.” That also applies to your career: Too often people focus only on what their resume` claims they can do. Wrong! Hone in on what you really love. (Think about what you loved to do when you ware a child.) Then dedicate five minutes a day to your vision. Each day do research and jot down your goals. What you though was only a hobby could turn into a side business or a fulltime job down the road. Or maybe simply a wonderful adventure of the spirit.
STOP HOPIN’ AND WISHIN’. Dream!
Change, by its nature, is stressful and fear-inducing, which is why people avoid it. But the biggest risk is not to go after your dream. “Can you imagine if Martin Luther King Jr. had said ‘I have a wish’?” asks Young. ” A wish is different than a dream. Dreams are active.”
I decided to take the Work @ What You Love Workshop and also work one-on-one with Valerie. The workshop explored so many unusual and unexpected solutions to my specific questions. I made so many new connections to what clearly works for me in crea...