From Unemployed to Self-Sufficient: My Story of Personal Transformation

self sufficient

Life is a grindstone. But whether it grinds us down or polishes us up depends on us.

– Thomas L. Holdcroft

A few years ago, I found myself out of work and very dispirited.

I had been applying all over the city for months, but so far, had no offers.  I felt like I was running myself ragged, and yet spinning my wheels and going nowhere.

When I realized that in my desperation I had started applying for jobs that I knew I would hate even before I got to the interview stage, I knew that something had to change.

I had always wanted to backpack around South America, with no plans farther in the future than that day, surviving on nothing but my wits and common sense.  What better time to go, I thought, than when I don’t have anything else holding me back?

So I hopped on a plane and went to Peru for 6 weeks.

Those two months marked some of the most profound personal growth and change of my entire life.

It’s not easy being a type-A personality and not knowing where you’re going to sleep the next night.  Although I had said that I wanted to go for many years, dreaming about something and actually making it a reality are two very different things.

I cried myself to sleep so many times those first few weeks.

But I kept at it, and one day I woke up and realized that I was having the time of my life.  I was meeting fabulous new people, getting to see extraordinary sights – Machu Picchu really must be experienced in person to truly appreciate the full weight of its beauty – and developing a deep sense of confidence in myself.

“I can do this,” I told myself every morning.  And I could.

Whether it was finding my way through the rural mountains of Peru in a combi (the local name for a group taxi), hiking the seemingly never-ending and terrifyingly narrow stairs of Huayna Picchu, Machu Picchu’s significantly taller cousin, living through really sketchy couch-surfing experiences, or translating medical Spanish for a team of American doctors working with the Quechua people, I woke up every day and found that I could do so much more than I thought I could.

After the disheartening job search over the previous few months, this well-needed encouragement was like a breath of cool, fresh air.

My friends and family all thought I was crazy.  Their reactions to my Peruvian gallivanting ran the gamut from “I could never do that!” to “that’s way too dangerous!” to “why would you ever want to do that?”.

At the end of the day, though, their reactions didn’t matter.  What mattered was that I needed to prove something to myself. I had spent far too long feeling like a failure – first at my job, and then in my search for a new one.  I needed to be reminded of what it felt like to succeed – what it felt like to be totally on my own and come away victorious.

That is exactly what Peru did for me.

When I returned, I couldn’t shake the thrill of self-sufficiency that I had gained during my travels in South America.  I tried sticking with a regular 9-5 for a while, but finally decided that it just wasn’t for me anymore.  I had grown too much while I was gone, and simply couldn’t fit in the “normal” box that society had created for me.

Eventually I quit my new job and started working for myself.  I relish the thrill of being my own boss.  Now I get to problem solve complicated dilemmas for a living, on my own time and the way that I best see fit.  It’s exhilaratingly freeing.

18 thoughts on “From Unemployed to Self-Sufficient: My Story of Personal Transformation”

  1. I am right where you were. I am living my dream which was to work from home. I am in the beginning stage where money is going out and not coming in. I needed to do this for myself. I am happier than I have been in years. So I applaud you for going for it!!

  2. You have clearly lived up to the words of Thomas L. Holdcroft. Life is indeed a grindstone. But whether it grinds us down or polishes us up depends on us.

    I see you have not only explored South America but yourself too. Such a great and inspiring story. I have always wanted to travel and be my own boss. Your words have really stirred me.

    And it’s amazing how you are into teaching others to create a meaningful life. Keep up with the awesome work. All the very best Lauren.

    1. I’m so glad that my story resonated with you, Soham! For a long time I struggled with understanding what the purpose of my painful experiences was, but now I understand they have served to make me stronger and help me inspire others. I hope that you pursue your dream of traveling and setting your own schedule!

  3. You have followed your heart and that is what we are all meant to be doing! If we all live the ‘safe’ life, are we really living? Wayne Dyer said an amazing thing when he made the turn around decision to do what he loved rather than what was safe. He asked him self, “does he want to live for 90 years or does he want to live one year over and over again for ninety years”

    1. It’s one of the scariest things I’ve ever done, but also one of the most amazing. That’s why I encourage everyone to do things that scare them :). Thanks for commenting!

  4. I love the story and the inspiration. One thing jumped out at me, though – I do hope you realize how fortunate you were to be able to “hop on a plane and go to Peru for 6 weeks.” Not everyone who is in a dark place has the means or opportunity to do so. It’s a lovely way to feel alive and find one’s purpose, but it’s not necessary, and it many not even be possible, to run away for a while as a way to be happier. I cried myself to sleep plenty of times while re-defining my life but I did it, solo, while caring for two kids and a bunch of animals on a shoestring budget that frequently left me with literally $3 to my name. No trips to Peru though believe me, I dreamed plenty. I adamantly stuck to my desire to be a freelance writer so I could have the freedom I wanted to travel and live adventurously. I did it. I can now travel with abandon to anywhere I choose (on my way to Spain in a few weeks) – but in those dark times, running away to find myself was not an option. In hindsight, I’m glad I wasn’t able to. I’m glad I had to pull myself up on my own and create the life I want without giving in to the urge to run away, even for a change of perspective. I had to create a change of perspective right from where I was. Gratitude is the big take-away here. Be grateful for where you are, for the mess you’re in, and for your ability to figure it the hell out.

    1. The mind that begets such a thought as, “I care about someone else’s need to run away.”, is one that harbours resentment. A mind that harbours nothing but love is one that does not create such thoughts to soothe the thinker.

      1. Jarmila Gorman

        I think you misunderstand my intent – I’m merely stating that it is not possible for many to hop on a plane and disappear for 2 months because they are unhappy. So while I do feel genuinely glad for Lauren that this adventure made a huge difference in her life, her story may not resonate with those who don’t have the budget for the luxury of running away when things are bad. Finding oneself and creating happiness HERE and NOW is quite possible – so while the story may inspire people to take control of their lives, the travel element of it isn’t necessary.

        1. Cheryl Johnson

          Hi Jarmila, I found her story awesome as I stated before. I merely was pointing out that many of us don’t have the luxury of going away, and we face our challenges daily.

          My escape takes me to the shore,where I pull up a chair near the waves, and every time the waves roll in and out,they take with them all things negative. I meet great people, who always provide a new insight about life. On my journey home I feel refreshed.

          I do understand what you were conveying to the readers. Have an Awesome Day!!

  5. Awesome story,So glad you had such an exhilarating experience. It is not that easy for many people to buy a plane ticket after being unemployed for so long, how did you manage that? Just curious.
    I can barely keep my utilities on and food in my home after being unemployed for over a year, while I’m working a minimum wage job currently .I have extinguished my savings, and my 401k losing more than 3/4 of my pay, from being laid off, perhaps you have family or friends who help support your endeavor.
    It would be nice to shun my responsibilities and travel, but living in a realistic world it’s just not possible for many.
    You make is sound so easy but honestly it;s not.

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