Amy McMillen – Leaving a Path That Makes Sense (Podcast)

I connected with Amy McMillen in the early stages of Covid when a zoom meetup every night was normal. I was excited to discover she had been writing about her journey leaving a path that made sense and stepping into the unknown.

She launched a book about this journey, Reclaiming Control, which I read over two days. I’ve been talking to people about similar journeys with people for the last several years, but to sit down and follow Amy’s journey through a 100+ page book was a new kind of experience.

A year ago I was in the “writing books is so 1900s, why not just write online?” but after reading Amy’s I came away thinking it would be great if there were 100 similar books like this. In my call for more creators, I made a loud call for more creators and this book convinced me its a good thing.

We think that no one will care about our story. But I’ve come to realize that people don’t want to follow your path, they are interested in following someone’s story and saying, “hey I’m not alone!”

I had this feeling when I read this passage in the first chapter:

So, yes, I quit my job. I have zero plans for what I’m doing. If you ask, I’ll only tell you that I’m going to spend some time traveling with my family. Because truth be told, that’s all I know right now. Don’t worry, I am not here to tell you to quit your job and travel the world. In fact, I’d highly advise against it (at least for now)

Podcast Conversation

Three Excerpts From Reclaiming Control by Amy McMillen

“I wanted something different while never having the courage to do anything about it”

When I decided to go to Costa Rica to get certified in permaculture design, all I knew was that I was pursuing an interest. I didn’t know that I would get a glimpse of what it meant to be free.

Sitting in an open classroom made out of bamboo, Scott told us he committed to a desk job years ago after studying economics in college, only to take a road trip throughout Latin America that extended for the next ten years.

Eating her daily diet of mangos, jackfruit, and coconut, Ana shared how she designed apps in San Jose, only to realize that the user experience she was designing didn’t quite align with what her body needed at the time.

Swinging on a hammock outside our bunkhouse, Sarah recalled how in her high fashion career in Australia, she witnessed her team bickering for almost an hour back and forth around how yellow the color of a button on a dress should be. At that moment, she knew she couldn’t do it anymore.

I thought about the many hours I spent in meetings deciding the equivalent of what color buttons should be. I was working with an online system, not dresses, but the sentiment was all the same.

Unlike Sarah, however, I couldn’t pinpoint a specific moment when I decided that I had had enough. My journey instead was a slow-burning cognitive dissonance—a soft underlying knowledge that I wanted something different while never having the courage to do anything about it.

It was probably a week after I started my first full-time job when I was already listening to podcasts about people who had quit their conventional corporate lives to pursue something different. Though I listened to these people’s stories day in and day out, their decisions never seemed accessible to me. I didn’t want to simply quit and travel the world just to travel, nor did I have a successful side hustle that could sustain me, nor did I have a brilliant start-up idea. I felt lost and stuck, simultaneously pulled in a million different directions while feeling empty and blank whenever I thought about what I wanted.

Spending two weeks with over thirty people from all around the world from age twenty-one to seventy or older was the first time in my adult life that I felt surrounded by people who knew how to be free. We were on a ranch in Costa Rica because we wanted to be, not because anyone expected us to be.

How novel it seemed to have conversations beyond how sick and tired you were of your job, how annoyed you were at your boss or team, or to answer, “How are things?” with more than, “You know, same old same old”

I thought finding a new job would be the answer, which led me to explore other positions in tech, product, and venture capital. I’m thankful that I went through this process, which gave me the confidence that if and when I wanted a new job, I would be able to get one. It also taught me that hopping to another job wasn’t quite the answer. I needed to do a lot of internal work on how to control my current thoughts, feelings, actions, and results no matter the circumstances.

The people I met through permaculture not only lived free lives externally, but internally as well. Many days we started class at 7 a.m. and later had evening sessions of group work or extra learning. It wasn’t quite the beaches and waterfalls that my coworkers were probably envisioning my Costa Rica vacation to consist of. In that bamboo classroom, sipping on fresh coffee and eating raw cacao beans to stay awake, we learned about water, soil, fermentation, agroforestry, and composting. With the ranch as a living classroom, we applied the skills immediately.

Externally, our days seemed long and arduous, but we never experienced it that way. Who knows if I will ever use some of the skills I learned? Will I ever need to graft a plant or dig swales? Maybe, maybe not. All I knew was that the low-grade anxiety I learned to live with in my day-to-day life back in New York was gone. To live a life filled with beautiful things you wanted to do and learn—what a thought! With each passing day I soaked in the lives of those around me who were living intentionally, I began to see the possibility that I could do the same.

Living in the jungle with people whose lives were so completely different from mine taught me that I could do something beyond my constructed bubbles of tech, finance, and start-ups. The people showed me there were more possibilities and that these possibilities were possible for me, too.

“This Is My Life”

This is my life now. This is my life now. This is my life now.

I fill the page with these words as I sit on a slab of rock, looking out at a lake in the middle of Wyoming.

I had lived most of my life in preparation for something. In middle school, I was preparing for high school. In high school, I was preparing for college. In college, I was preparing to get a job. After graduating, I turned to what I saw everyone else preparing for, including promotions, next jobs, or graduate school. There’s always a next step.

At first, I wonder what it would be like to press pause for a little bit. Just to catch my breath. What I realize, however, is that I don’t simply want to press pause. I want to live in the present, not as a ghost daydreaming about the future or hung up on the past. I want to allow myself to dream, and then live those dreams in real time.

My shoulders tense and my stomach knots as I think about actually living life and questioning what I want.

I don’t know what I want. I’m too indecisive to live my own life.

Feelings of self-doubt and overwhelm cloud my mind for a bit until I get annoyed. I say, “I don’t know,” to almost everything; I’m even sick of it myself. It’s the same feeling when I’m at a restaurant staring at a huge menu, and the server has already come around three times to ask what I’d like to order. “Just a little more time, please,” I always sheepishly respond.

I toss a pebble into the lake, watching it create ripples upon ripples. Impatience bubbles up inside me, letting me know that my time is up.

This is my life now.

“No longer procrastinate in living life”

Deciding to no longer procrastinate in living life leads me to see things in a different light. I actively choose what I give time, attention, and energy to. I write beautiful stories about watching the sunrise, playing with my niece, and reading by the fireplace. I give my body time and space to rest and heal, knowing I will be more prepared for whatever comes my way.