Go West and Do Something with Horses

the great story of Paige Burkes, excerpted from this article (see link):

This is the story of an accountant run amok.

A woman who had her life planned out, mapped out, short-term and long-term goals set, thought she knew exactly what she wanted out of life, and was on the fast track to success in her career.

Then she woke up one morning and said, “What the f**k!?”  And her life changed forever.

The Question

My journey begins as a senior manager at a big public accounting firm in Boston.  I was on a mission to become a partner faster than anyone else ever had.  When it was clear I was about a year away from that, this nagging voice in the back of my head started asking, “Is this all there is to life?” I started to closely examine the lives of the partners I worked for and hoped to hell that I didn’t end up like them.  I wanted so much more.

Around that time I was offered a short-term position as the CFO of a company.  I thought that maybe working on the inside of a company might be different than auditing one so I accepted.  And I could always go back to the big firm when this project was over.

Within a couple of months I was miserable and knew that this wasn’t “it.”

Stepping Into the Unknown

I had made enough of a move to realize that I couldn’t go back to the big firm.  I couldn’t accept mediocrity for the rest of my life.  I had no idea where to go or what to do next, but I knew I couldn’t go back to where I came from.  It was just too painful.

This was the beginning of a huge shift in my life from being the incredibly organized, planned, and thought-out person to someone who learned to go with the flow and trust my intuition.

My husband at the time was a pilot.  He was based on the island of Nantucket, off the coast of Massachusetts.  Not knowing where to go next, I packed up our apartment and put everything in storage and moved to Nantucket.

I waited tables at one of the two restaurants open on the island that winter (big jump from corporate big shot).  Never let your ego believe that you’re too good or too big for anything.  That job opened many awesome opportunities that I never could have planned for.

We lived in a B&B whose owner let us run it for the pilots who needed an overnight place to stay.  I learned about the B&B business and decided that it wasn’t something I wanted to do.

The First Big Adventure

Just before Christmas I was sitting around at the restaurant after work with the other staff.  Another waitress said she was going on a trip to Costa Rica in a few weeks and the friend that was going with her bailed. She didn’t know what to do.  I thought, “Costa Rica has always been on my list of places I’d love to visit.”  So I asked if I could go with her.  She was ecstatic to not have to cancel her trip and I was about to cross something off my bucket list.

We left a few weeks later with our backpacks, a hotel reservation for the night and our Lonely Planet Guide.

It was the most amazing six weeks of my life.  I learned the magic of serendipity and happiness when I let go of plans and stopped trying to control things.  The experiences I had and the people I met were so much better than anything I could have planned.

Listen To That Little Voice

When I returned, I knew I couldn’t stay on Nantucket forever but didn’t know what to do next.  Around that time, my intuition started to scream at me, “Go west and do something with horses.”  My logical mind replied, “Where west?  It’s awfully big.  And what with horses?  There’s a lot I could do (even though I had done nothing with horses except some trail rides at camp when I was a kid).”  My intuition wisely replied, “You go figure it out.”  And I did.

When your intuition speaks, LISTEN and ACT on it.  It always has your best interest in mind.

I informed my husband that we were leaving in two weeks.  He asked, “Where?  And do what?”  I had always been the one with very clear goals and plans so he thought I had everything mapped out.  I got the “deer in the headlights” look when I responded that I had no idea but we just had to go.

Go West Young Woman!

Two weeks later we packed my Jeep and headed west.  From Boston we headed straight for Colorado.  We explored Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, Washington, Oregon and northern California.

My intuition said that “something” would pop up along the way.  And if it didn’t, we would end up at my brother’s place in San Francisco.

We explored some amazing places but nothing popped, and I landed at my brother’s place for a couple of weeks.  I explored San Francisco and did online research to find something “west and horses.”

Getting Way Out of My Comfort Zone

I discovered an outfitting school outside of Jackson Hole, Wyoming.  This is where you live in a tent in the deep woods for a month and a half and learn how to cook over an open fire, pack horses, hunt, fish, and be a guide.  This is serious outdoor living and I was intrigued.

Mind you, I was a major city girl who thought, “Ewww!  Dirt and bugs!” at the thought of camping.  But now I was open to anything.  And now I was going to be the female version of Jeremiah Johnson.

I called and registered at the last minute.  Upon arrival at the camp, I found that another woman and I were the first women they had ever had at this school. It had run for 25 years!

It was another absolutely amazing experience.  I learned levels of self-sufficiency that I never thought I had in me.  Going from city girl to this, doing it really well and loving it, I knew I could handle anything that would ever be thrown at me.

What’s Next?

By the end of the training, I knew I didn’t want to be an outfitter.  I remembered a vacation I took a couple years before to a dude ranch in Telluride, CO.  I remember looking up at the peaks and the amazingly blue sky thinking, “I have to be here.  I don’t know how or when, but I have to be here.”  (It’s that little voice talking to me again.)

Well, two years later I was there asking for a job.  Funny how the universe works.  Understandably, they told me to get lost (in a very nice way) since they only knew me as the city slicker guest I was.

Next, I called the Colorado Dude Ranchers Association and asked if they knew anyone hiring.  They said that, since it was very late in the hiring season (late May), there’s usually nothing available but they happened to know of a ranch looking for a manager.  Perfect!  I’m a manager!

I called the owner and talked for a couple of hours.  He invited us to the ranch where we spent a few days.  At the end of the second day he said, “Well, why don’t you stay.”  And we did.

I learned the ropes of all the positions at the ranch that summer.  Every time I took guests out for a ride I would say (sometimes to myself but usually to the guests), “I can’t believe I get paid to do this.  Other people are going to offices and jobs they hate and I get to be here.  Amazing!”

As fall turned into winter, the guests disappeared and my weakening marriage fell apart.  He wasn’t up for this new lifestyle that I was so passionate about.  He returned to Boston and we got a divorce.

I was alone at the ranch and it was the most peaceful time of my life.  Some guests that would come for a night or two would ask me if I was scared to be there alone.  They thought it was like that movie, The Shining.  I would always laugh and tell them I was more scared in a city than I ever am in the woods.

Off to More Adventures!

After a year at the dude ranch, I knew that wasn’t the “west and horses” that I was looking for, so I moved on.  Next, I worked at CSU’s equine facility feeding horses and mucking stalls while I worked with a trainer training horses.

This was followed by another manager position at a unique horse ranch in California.  Neither of these were “it” either, but I continued to learn new things from my different experiences.

Are you getting the picture here?  Life is a series of experiences that all have meaning.  In order to know what you want, you must have a lot of experiences that help you narrow things down.  None of them are bad.  None of them are failures.  Each one helps you to put the pieces together a little better.

And as you put the pieces together, the picture in the puzzle changes.  What’s good for you and what you want will change over time.  It’s perfectly normal.

Keep stepping out of your comfort zone and having more amazing experiences.

Settling Down

While I loved the outdoor life, I was tired of taking care of other people’s horses at other people’s places for minimum wage.  I wanted my own place and my own horses.  I felt that the only way I could get this would be to return to a corporate job, but to live where and how I wanted.

Six months later I found a great job.  With paycheck in hand, my new husband and I (met him at the dude ranch) went house hunting.  It took a lot of searching but we found our dream house on 20 acres in the mountains of Colorado.  We got our own horses and he even got mountain lions!

Knowing that I didn’t want to make the hour and a half commute every day, I negotiated with my boss to work from home one day a week.  Then, I pushed it to two or three days a week.

The days I worked from home, things were flexible.  My husband and I would go for long walks each day and spent lots of time together.  I made telecommuting flexible and seamless so that usually no one knew whether I was in the office or not.

Near the end of my eight years with this company, I worked it so that I could be home full-time. And I was the VP of Finance with a staff to manage.  Many would say that it’s impossible to work this kind of job remotely.  I knew it was possible and I made it happen.

Over the last five years I’ve had other jobs and have taken time off, but we live in the same amazing house with fabulous views, wildlife everywhere, and now three little kids who share our slice of heaven.

Sharing My Lessons to Help Others

A year ago I started my blog to help others see the possibilities for great things in their lives.  My writings there have been an eye-opening process for me.  I learned how much of myself I was still hiding behind the corporate persona that I wore so well.  I’ve learned how much better I can connect with and help others by dropping all the personas, being myself, and telling my stories.

Now I’m in the process of re-making myself into a leader of those looking to live happier lives.  Teaching people how to find and live the happiness that’s inside of them.  That’s my passion and my new career.  And I know that anything is possible.

Many people think they could never do many of the things I’ve done.  I didn’t think I could do them either – until I did them.

  • Leaving a successful career.
  • Making major leaps out of my comfort zone multiple times.
  • Creating my own lifestyle.

People may question why I wanted to do many of the things I did.  I say, why not?

I remember a phone call with my mother when I was at the dude ranch.  She asked, “Don’t you think you’re being a bit irresponsible?”  I thought that was the most bizarre question.  I answered, “Absolutely not!”  I thought I was doing the most responsible thing ever—making the journey to find myself and my passions and live life to the fullest.  It’s the only way I could be happy.

 

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