Guest post by Joseph A. Downing, author of The Abundant Bohemian.
When I was thirty-three years old, my life changed irrevocably. In a span of six months, I got divorced, my younger brother went blind from diabetic retinopathy and my fifty-eight year old mother died of stomach cancer. It was a bad time. A devastating time. A time of desperation and despair. Of depression and numbness.
But also one of the best things that ever happened to me.
Don’t misunderstand me—I miss my mom every day and would do anything to have her back. And fortunately, my brother regained sight in one eye and went back to living a normal life.
But going through that horrific experience woke me up. It shook me loose from my complacency. If you were to have asked me if I was happy before these events happened, I would have said yes. Sure my marriage had troubles, but whose didn’t?
Yeah, my job was stressful and required long hours, but that’s the price of success, right? I had a respected profession, a wife, a nice house in the suburbs and all the material possessions I could want. I achieved the American dream. How could I not be happy?
The truth was, I realized, I was miserable. My divorce taught me relationships are fragile. My brother’s disease taught me I couldn’t predict my future quality of life. My mother’s death taught me life is short.
I decided I wasn’t going to live an unfulfilled half-life anymore.
I’d always wanted to be a writer, but after working fifty-plus hours a week at the law firm, I didn’t have the physical or mental energy to actively write. I didn’t like the suburbs and craved a more urban existence, where I can be around artists, writers, musicians and other creative types. So both my brother and I sold our houses and moved to the city and rented a loft apartment in a restored warehouse. I saved up money for six months, quit the law firm and opened up my own practice. Yes, it was scary leaving a “secure” job, but security wasn’t enough anymore.
Because I was no longer giving most of my fees to the partners above me in the firm, I was able to make more my first year on my own despite reducing my work hours to thirty-five or less each week. And in those additional fifteen hours I gained? I was able to write. My life felt balanced again.
I made an effort to actively seek out my “tribe.” I started a blog about people who were successful following their passions; people who made a living doing what they loved. This allowed me to meet writers, painters, sculptors, dancers, musicians and many others. Many became and still are my friends. This experience was so inspiring that I wrote a book about it: The Abundant Bohemian: Live an Unconventional Life Without Starving In the Process. Through these new friends, I met a woman much more suited to me, and we are now married.
I don’t believe in the adage that “everything happens for a reason.” Sometimes bad things just happen through mistakes made, bad luck or just sheer randomness. But I do believe in the power of growth through suffering. Suffering leads to self-discovery. Suffering pushes out of the rut of complacency. Don’t waste those opportunities.
My book, The Abundant Bohemian: How To Live an Unconventional Life Without Starving In the Process is out now, and available wherever books are sold.
About the Author
Joseph Downing was born in 1969 in Dayton, Ohio. After receiving a BA in English from the University of Dayton, Joseph obtained a law degree from Ohio Northern University and currently is a practicing lawyer, writer, and artist. His short story, A Day in the Sun, was published in the Best of Ohio Anthology Volume One, he has twice published in Flights Literary Magazine, is an Impact Weekly Fiction Contest Winner, and he writes The Abundant Bohemian blog. His nonfiction book, The Abundant Bohemian: How to Live an Unconventional Life Without Starving in the Process, was published in 2014 by Boyle & Dalton. Joe lives in Dayton, Ohio and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.