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Six weeks ago, my plans for the winter looked much different.
My husband and I were talking about buying a new flat-screen TV on Black Friday to replace our ancient 32-inch model, and (finally) installing a dishwasher in our kitchen.
Then, I got a job offer thousands of kilometres away and I surprised everyone – including myself – by accepting it.
I’m Sarah Bugden, the outgoing editor of Amplify. A week from now, we’ll be flying from Toronto to Edmonton with our cat and all our belongings in tow. While taking a job in another city may not seem like a completely outrageous decision, I can assure you that, for me, it’s monumental: It’s a shift in my entire identity.
Truth be told, I am not naturally a go-with-the-flow person; I make a plan and I stick to it. Here’s what was supposed to happen: My husband and I were going to live the rest of our lives in Toronto in the house we worked so hard to buy before we turned 30 (or maybe a bigger one someday if the stars aligned). Now, that plan has gone through the shredder and it’s terrifying and exciting at the same time. I find myself saying things like, “Sometimes life throws you curve balls," and then wondering, “Who is this person who is making this big drastic life decision and is so at ease with it?”
I will admit that it feels like I’ve spent significantly more time agonizing over much smaller details in my life. Which wedding place cards to buy, what hotels to book for a vacation, the colour and width of the vinyl flooring in our basement. I don’t show up at a restaurant without already knowing what I’m going to order. So how did I, relatively quickly, decide to suddenly pick up and move to a city I’ve never even been to? As Joshua Rothman writes in the New Yorker: “One of the paradoxes of life is that our big decisions are often less calculated than our small ones are. We agonize over what to stream on Netflix, then let TV shows persuade us to move to New York." I think he’s on to something.
Economist Steven Levitt, who co-authored the book Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything, has a theory about people grappling with major life decisions. "As a basic rule of thumb, I believe that people are too cautious when it comes to making a change,” he told the Atlantic. He came to this conclusion, in part, thanks to a research project in which he asked participants who were considering an important life change – like whether to quit a job or break up with a partner – to flip a virtual coin on a website. If they got heads, they were instructed to go ahead and make the change. Tails meant they were to do nothing. A year on, 20,000 coins had been flipped. When Levitt followed up with the participants, he found that those who had made major changes were more likely to say they were happier two or even six months later.
I didn’t have to flip a coin to know what decision to make. In my gut, I knew that uprooting wasn’t just the right choice, but the only choice. What would be worse than facing the fears of such a big life change would be the regret and the wondering about what could have been. It turns out bulldozing my comfort zone feels really good.
There’s a feeling of freedom hanging over me that’s as unfamiliar as Edmonton will be at first. I am mentally lighter after giving away things I no longer use and letting go of some big responsibilities. Renting our house out and hiring a property management company means no more mortgage payments in one of the country’s hottest real estate markets, and affordable rent in a much cheaper one. It also means no more weekly trips to Home Depot for the endless jobs around the house. What will we do on the weekends? Who knows. Explore our new city. Drive to the mountains. Come up with a new five-year plan. Right now, the opportunities feel endless. Which, if you ask me, is a great way to usher in a new year.
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