Have you ever gotten the feeling, as you drive through a neighborhood, that living there would be all you ever imagined? That this space would give your family the community and joy you crave?
Years ago, we visited a suburban neighborhood outside of Houston that seemed blissful. Pregnant with our daughter, living there was all I wanted. So, we saved up.
We built a home in our dream location and moved in with our baby girl. And, boy, did I love that house.
Yet, that dream never quite came into focus. The happiness we imagined wasn’t in that life. At least not for us. And we had to find the courage to chart another path.
The Tempting Vision
I remember driving through our the neighborhood for the first time, seeing the front porches, cute streetlights, wide sidewalks, and well-kept parks with families playing. I could imagine being one of those families. It would be beautiful.
We’d walk to the park to play after dinner, chat with our lovely neighbors, walk home to put our daughter to bed and then pour ourselves a glass of wine to sip on our back porch.
I was pregnant with our first child at the time, and I’m not sure if it was nesting instinct, but I became completely obsessed with figuring out how we could live in this community.
The neighborhood happened to be 25 miles from the city center where we both worked. It also happened to be off a highway notorious for its terrible traffic. We heard on bad days, commutes could be up to two hours each way. But we could never afford a place like this in the city. We figured the commute wouldn’t be that bad.
Achieving Our Dream
Over the coming months, we put together a down payment and set to work choosing a house. We decided to build on a lot vs buying an existing home. Sure, this put us into stretch territory financially, but on paper it still seemed like we could make it work. Things would just be a little bit tight.
Other people reassured us, saying the house was a good investment. We’d get raises. We could deduct our mortgage interest. “Do it!” they said.
The house was completed and we moved in as our daughter turned six months old.
I loved it.
We planted flowers in the front beds. Our parents loved the house and the neighborhood. I felt we had arrived as grown-ups. People congratulated us and I was proud.
But after a few months, there was a nagging feeling. One that neither my husband nor I would acknowledge it at first.
The truth was we weren’t making enough money to afford the house. The commute was hollowing out our family time. We weren’t happy.
This wasn’t what we had imagined.
The Denial Phase
No one wants to admit something beautiful you envisioned isn’t working.
It’s tough coming to terms with the idea you’re doing something society looks upon approvingly and accepting that it’s just not the right fit for you. It can make you question your own feelings.
But you know.
When you cry every day before you go to a highly respected or well-paying job, when maintaining the dream boat you bought turns out to feel like a massive burden, or when moving to an exciting city you always dreamed of turns out to be completely the wrong culture for you, you know.
All these things look like marks of success to others. It’s hard to say publicly “this isn’t making me happy” without feeling like a failure. Without feeling ungrateful.
Especially when you put a lot of work into making it happen.
Our beautiful house with the white picket fence wasn’t making us happy, but it looked like success to everyone else. The reality was we were tired and had no money at the end of the month.
This was not the dream.
Letting Go of The Vision
My husband had just gotten a promotion before we moved, which was great, except now, he was working longer hours. It wasn’t uncommon for him to get home after our young daughter was in bed. He hadn’t left work that late, it just took forever to get home.
So those evenings at the park after dinner I imagined? They never happened. He wasn’t even home yet.
One day my husband finally said he had had enough. We had to do something. This wasn’t the life he wanted to live as a family.
When we sat down and talked about it, we realized we needed more margin in our lives. We wanted to be able to save money for our future besides the equity we were building in our home and the small amount we were putting in our 401Ks. We wanted to have more than one day on the weekends that didn’t feel rushed and stressed.
My husband proposed the idea of moving back to the city. Of selling the dream house.
We would find a cheap apartment close to work and downsize as much as we needed to make it happen.
At first, I couldn’t comprehend it. This was our dream home! You do not go from your dream house back to a cheap apartment.
And I felt some real shame that we couldn’t make this work. I didn’t know what our families would think. What our neighbors would think.
But I knew he was right.
When he said he couldn’t be the father he wanted to be living there, I was filled with resolve. We had to chart a new course.
This is a hard place to be, accepting something didn’t turn out the way you’d hoped.
But once you get past this stage you can move forward with finding the thing that does turn out.
It’s not a failure. You are correcting the ship so your life feels successful instead of just looking like it.
I let go of the idea that selling the house was a failure and embraced the good times we’d had there, in that season of our lives.
We had made incredible friends on our street. I had helped start a Farmer’s Market. The people who bought our house became dear friends. We learned a ton in the process of building the house and now know better what we want in our next home.
When you’re giving up a dream, try not to focus on the loss. See the good you’re taking away from the experience, even if it’s only in the form of lessons learned.
You tried something and you know how that story ends. You will never have to wonder “what if”.
When you decide to change something, not everyone around you will understand. That’s okay. You knowing what is right for you is enough. You only have this one, precious life to live. Do it despite the naysayers.
Sometimes the transition will feel tough, and you’re not sure how it will turn out. Keep the vision you’re moving toward in mind. It will help during the difficult phases of letting go of the old vision.
Six months after we decided to sell the house, we found ourselves in an affordable apartment in the city. We had paid off all our debts including our cars with the sale of the house. That let me quit my job (which I wasn’t happy in) to stay home with our daughter full-time her last year before kindergarten. I had never imagined that would be possible and it was the best year ever.
I love to cook and suddenly I had time to make dinner every night in that little apartment kitchen. My husband commented the stress in our family had evaporated. His commute was now 15 minutes. Even when he worked late, he was home by dinner and playing with our daughter on the living room floor.
We eventually bought a small, affordable townhouse that needed work near the city center. It’s less than half the size of our former suburban home and has no yard or picket fence.
But I love it.
It gives us the life we dreamed of.
Now we pay extra on our mortgage instead of barely making it. When we need new tires it’s no longer an emergency. There is money at the end of the month to invest in our future. We have time and energy to enjoy our family during the week without the long commute.
Getting to this place meant letting go of the picture-perfect suburban life we had envisioned. We needed the courage to trade the fantasy in for the messy, lovely, different life that actually made us happy.
Some people understood, some people didn’t. Some things were easy, while others were really hard.
But if you find yourself in a situation that isn’t making you happy – even though you thought it would – find the courage to change it. You will be glad you did.
Oh, and now? We actually do walk to the park after dinner sometimes.
We want to hear from you. Have you ever had to pivot from a lifestyle you worked for once you discovered it wasn’t making you happy? How did you handle it? Share in the comments!