Sometimes it takes a major event to fully step back and reevaluate your life. For Sarah Ramsden, it was a double wallops of bad news: she was diagnosed with a brain tumor and MS in the same week. That’s not even fair, universe! Suddenly, her high-stress design job didn’t seem so awesome. Same goes for her fancy Toronto apartment. So she quit.
These days, she’s living in the sticks and pursuing a career she believes in (and PS is making money doing something she would’ve poo-pooed just a few years ago). She’s never been happier. Here’s her story, in her words.
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In 2011, you had a super-successful career and lived a totally fabulous life in Toronto. What did your life look and feel like?
At the time, I was an Art Director, and Creative Director working in digital media. I helped some of the most sought after clients in the industry with their website design and strategy. Companies like Dell, Hyatt, Mercedes Benz, Citi Bank, Harley Davidson and Hilton Hotels.
It was high stress, but I loved piecing together what was often a puzzle of client expectations, limited budget, and tight deadlines. I truly loved being creative every day, and applying a practical edge to it, as working with big business often requires.
I ate out all the time, didn’t sleep properly, and was always watching who was moving up in the company, comparing myself to their success, and working harder to match it. My idea of success was getting the next raise or promotion!
What pushed you to finally quit your job?
My health was the instigator! Over the space of several weeks, I started experiencing strange health symptoms. A week after finally squeezing a doctors appointment between client meetings, I found out I had a brain tumour and multiple sclerosis (MS). Yep, I literally found out I had two major, chronic health conditions in the space of one week.
This led me to brain surgery for the tumor, and a whole load of research to figure out the MS side of things as I simply wasn’t willing to be on medication for the rest of my life.
Then, a year after returning to work post-surgery, I quit my job on a whim.
I’d had a growing sense of unease about it since my surgery. I had changed, and I was realizing that I simply did not enjoy the same things that used to light me up. I didn’t know what I DID enjoy yet, but I knew that my old life didn’t fit the bill anymore. It came down to a particularly shitty day, where I was dealing with a lot of politics client-side, and I wondered why the f^&* I was doing this.
I literally thought, NO. I won’t do this anymore.
Long story short, after quitting my job, and my whole design career in fact, I went back to school to study to be a nutritionist. Nutrition was the thing that had helped me manage the MS, and I wanted to soak up more about it. It just felt RIGHT.
I later started my own business, where I helped others take control of their health through making dietary changes, but even now, that’s morphing into something else!
Was the decision scary for you? Why or why not?
My fear was around NOT doing something about it, about NOT quitting. I literally had no plan the day I handed in my notice, but I did know I couldn’t continue making these hugely profitable companies more so, when I felt there was so much more important work to be doing.
If something is vaguely scary, I repeat to myself, “This isn’t brain surgery”. Because it isn’t. It’s not a life or death situation, and the world will not end.
I can only assume that while refocusing your career and life path, it was also emotionally (and financially!) taxing. Who or what helped you cope?
I quit my job at the beginning of the summer, and decided I’d just do things I loved doing for a few months, releasing the pressure to find a new income. I’m lucky that I’ve always been good with money, and I knew I could get through that time if I made a few simple adjustments. But I also had a new perspective on life, and made a conscious decision to simply not worry about the outcomes.
As luck would have it, freelance design work started to trickle in where I could take on projects on an as-needed basis, and get paid far more than before for doing so. After being accepted into my nutrition program, I landed a 6 month freelance contract that ended up paying all my tuition, and for me to be off work for the time it took me to complete my qualification.
If I had clung to my safe job, none of this would have happened.
When & why did you decide to quit city living, relocating from Toronto to Vancouver Island, BC?
I originally moved to Toronto for a promotion within the company I worked for. I moved there for the work, and only secondarily for the life the city would bring me. After being so ill, then quitting my career, going back to school, and starting my own nutrition business, I felt like a foreigner in the city. I had changed so much, that my environment no longer matched me.
Luckily my partner, an “outdoorsy” type, felt the same. We just didn’t fit into city life, and plus we truly hated the weather there. We both craved space, trees, and the outdoors being just “out there” when we opened our front door (and not a 3-hour drive away in a car we didn’t have).
In July 2014, I used up all my Aeroplan points (aka, Air Canada loyalty program) that I’d accumulated in my design career – oh the irony – and flew us both to Vancouver Island where he’d never been before, but I’d spent many summers as a kid. Within 30 minutes of the plane touching down, he was on board with my idea to leave the city, and we designed a 6-month plan to make it happen.
The focus is on our life now, isn’t work. We hike, go wild swimming (in rivers, lakes, canyons, and the ocean), do sea kayaking, surfing… Essentially we’ve been able to build a life around richness, and not riches.
What’s the biggest misconception about your new lifestyle?
That it’s hard to do. It’s not, you need to realign your priorities. We decided to choose the lifestyle and environment we wanted, and then build everything else like work around that. While I transition my business into this new location, I’m working in a job that I’d previously have snobbishly stuck my nose up at. We’ve put the focus on the lifestyle we want, and continue to build towards it.
Currently, I work in a health food store as an in-house nutritionist. So I essentially work in retail, and do nutrition consults on the fly for my customers. I happen to make a big difference in their lives, but my point is, that I work in retail. I have an honors degree in graphic design, a Masters of Arts in Communications, am a Certified Nutritional Practitioner, and soon to be a life coach…. Working in retail.
We too often look down on people who do this kind of work, but you know what, it gives me the freedom to do whatever the heck I want. I’m growing my own business to give me even more freedom, and I have placed myself in the kind of environment where I can decide on a whim to go surfing for the day, or jump in a river, or explore temperate rainforest… and it’s all on my doorstep.
Happiest moment since moving to the Vancouver Island? Saddest/most frustrating?
The happiest moment has to have been when we found the house we’re living in. In Toronto, I had this crazy idea that I wanted to live in the country, on an acreage, with horses nearby, a place to grow my own vegetables, and on a property where we were surrounded by trees. BUT, it would be 10 minutes outside of a small town where we could get the essentials. It was a ridiculous request, but every single part of it came true. Every. Single. Part!
There haven’t been any sad or frustrating moments. Everything is buffered by the gratitude we have for building a life that we choose, rather than drift through.
How has quitting changed your life?
Quitting something opens up the space for new and amazing things to come into your life. I’m a big fan of quitting, it’s essential to move on from things that no longer suit you.
Think this your current lifestyle is a forever thing?
Yes! I’ve only just begun!
What are the three most important things you’ve learned since quitting your fancy job and moving out of the city?
Allowing yourself the freedom to do what makes YOU happy, rather than going along with what society expects of you, if where true riches can be found.
I am healthier and happier living in the country.
Always trust your intuition. Your head will try to rationalize things, and talk you out of things, but that gut feeling always gives you the honest answer.
Advice to someone who’s thinking of liberating their life?
Write down why you’re scared, and all the worst possible scenarios. Are they likely to actually happen? What can you do to mitigate the risk? Then set a plan (no matter how long it might take), tell people (everyone) about it, and do it. Please don’t get to five years from now without at least trying!
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Other posts you might like: Here’s what happened when Melanie & George moved into an Airstream trailer full-time; plus, how these two quit their day jobs and started running a secret supper club.
PS Do you have an awesome Quitters story? Email me at heyeleanorproject [at] gmail.com.
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