Guest Post by Tara Munjekovich
My journey in search of “the simple life” began in 2018 in Los Angeles, California. I was in my mid 40’s, employed as a law enforcement officer in one of the busiest and most well-known police departments in the United States, heading into my 11th year on the job. I was making great money, working one of the most coveted assignments in the department, and well on my way to future promotions and a secure pension. I was living the career and life of my dreams… or so I told myself.
In truth, I was stressed out, often struggling financially because I was paying a ridiculous mortgage to live in a small condo in a cookie-cutter suburb that was an hour and a half commute to work each way in bumper to bumper traffic, despite the fact it was technically less than a 20 mile drive. I was working excessive overtime, and I was lucky if I slept 3-4 hours a day. I was mentally and physically exhausted, and I found myself consistently becoming more negative, moody, and angry about the increasingly ridiculous laws being enacted that made it nearly impossible to effectively do my job. I knew I needed a change, but I had no idea what to do or where to start. There’s a reason people remain cogs in the wheel of the government machine for twenty years or more. The lure of a great pension and full medical retirement is like a drug addiction.
A couple years prior, my best friend, Erin, had moved from California to Washington State, with no money saved and no particular career prospects. Within a year, she had landed a great job and had bought her fairytale home, a quaint cabin in a sleepy little wooded coastal town on the Puget Sound. To be honest, I was more than a little envious of her ability to just pick up and start a new life adventure like that because I didn’t think I had it in me to be that gutsy. I visited her a few times, and I completely fell in love with the serenity and beauty of rural western Washington. I knew this was the life I eventually wanted, and I found myself wistfully repeating, “Someday, when I retire, I’m moving there…”
Unbeknownst to me, Erin took it upon herself to submit my resume to a small law enforcement agency in the city where she worked. I only found this out when I got a phone call from a Lieutenant asking why I wanted to leave my world-famous department of 10,000 officers to work for a tiny unknown agency with just over 40 employees. I was put on the spot, and I suddenly found myself in a position to make a life changing decision. In those brief few seconds, I realized I had spent the past few years miserable but too afraid to make a move. I was becoming one of those people I hated – you know, the ones who always complain about their life circumstances but never do anything to change them. This was my chance to make that change. Shit or get off the pot, as they say. So, without skipping a beat, I heard myself reply, “This city is a shithole, and I’ve realized quality of life is worth more than my pension.”
A whirlwind two months later, I was living in western Washington, back at the bottom of the law enforcement food chain, but happier than I had felt in years. I sold my condo in California for a profit that enabled me to fully pay off my car and put a decent down payment on a house. It was a corner lot home on half an acre of property in a relatively small lakeside community in a rural area. It wasn’t quite “off-grid living,” but for a girl who grew up in a dismal apartment in a congested over-populated city and had never lived in an actual house, it was a dream come true.
My dream life only continued to get better and better. As soon as I completed my obligatory one-year probationary period as a street cop, I was promoted to Detective. I was working on incredible cases and making a name for myself as the top investigative writer in the county. I was riding high, feeling good! I was still a cog in the wheel of the government machine, but now I was a smaller, seemingly more independent cog in a wheel that was traveling happily down a country road, whistling a jolly tune. And then BAM! We crashed headlong into Covid-19… I could elaborate on how the poor handling of the pandemic by the dictator (oops, I mean governor) of Washington ruined countless lives and destroyed untold numbers of small businesses, but this isn’t that story.
As one of the initial “frontline” emergency workers, my job was secure, and I worked throughout the entire pandemic without taking Covid leave. Was I lucky? Financially, yes. However, in the wake of months of public unrest, fear, anger, anti-law enforcement backlash, and downright insanity that swept the nation after the death of George Floyd, I found myself once again dealing with feelings of anger, anxiety, and unhappiness. I was also going down the rabbit hole of negative social media posts and sensationalized news stories that made me feel even more anxious and angry about the country spiraling out of control. I was pushing myself to injury in the gym as a way to relieve stress, while simultaneously negating my workouts by stress eating complete crap foods and drinking too much alcohol as a coping mechanism. I knew I needed to get myself in a better place mentally and physically or I was going to spiral into depression, so I started looking into positive mindset and health podcasts.
I stumbled onto “The Simple Life” podcast in September of 2020. I wasn’t looking to sell my house and live off-grid in an RV (Let’s not get crazy here!), but I found myself relating to Gary’s journey and experiences, and I agreed with the things he was saying about health, wellness, and simplifying your life. It literally got to the point where I was talking out loud to myself in response to Gary as though we were having a personal conversation. Although I had already started down the path towards simplifying my life when I moved from California to Washington, 2020 hit me hard (like it did most people), and I was floundering.
Listening to Gary discuss the concept of the “Three-Legged Stool” was like having a lightbulb go off in my head, and I became determined to get my shit together. Not to sound like an infomercial, but I ordered all of Gary’s books and excitedly started working on my personal life balance reboot of health, wealth, and purpose. I attacked my garage and closets with ferocity, tossing needless items left and right into the street (Okay, I put them in piles for the Goodwill, but you get my point…). It was empowering and liberating to get rid of all the clutter.
I stopped eating crap and got back to nourishing my body with healthy foods. Fortunately, I had spent several years coaching at a gym, and I knew how to eat “clean,” so it was just a matter of getting back into a routine of discipline and not shoving donuts into my mouth (Oh how I miss the incredible apple fritters from Larry and Kristi’s Bakery in Washington… sigh!).
I took a good hard look at my finances and realized that even though I had a reasonable mortgage and my car was paid off, I was wasting money on useless junk, just to buy things to fill the void and try to feel better about myself. I’m pretty sure my local Amazon driver thought I died or moved when he stopped delivering daily packages to my house.
I truly loved being a detective, and I worked for a really great department with incredible co-workers and supervisors, but I was also living in one of the craziest far left states in America, with leadership determined to win the prize for extreme (and quite frankly downright dangerous) police reform. I realized I couldn’t maintain a healthy mindset or fully embrace the concepts of the “Three-Legged Stool” if I continued to get sucked into the negativity and insanity that I was repeatedly smacked in the face with every day when I walked into work. Even though I had made a big leap towards simplifying my life by moving from a major metropolis to a small city, I was still craving a more simplistic existence. In my heart, I knew that would involve both a career change and moving out of the most beautiful place I had ever lived.
Cue the next big step on my simple life journey… a spontaneous trip with a co-worker to the panhandle of Texas. To be honest, I had zero interest in moving to Texas, and the idea had never crossed my mind. I had my eye on the lush rolling hills of middle Tennessee! Yet, life had other things in store for me, and I was once again provided with an incredible opportunity for change and growth.
This has already become a much longer story than I intended, so I’ll spare the details, but similar to my unexpected transition from California to Washington, I found myself saying yes to a job offer in the flat high plains of northern Texas. Not only did the job pay less than a third of what I was making at the time, but it was also completely outside of my wheelhouse, in an industry I knew nothing about. I had no idea how I was going to make ends meet, and my friends thought I was crazy to give up a secure government career (again!) to take a random job in an unstable economy in a small town I had never even heard of.
Was I nervous? Heck yeah, but I was also excited. This was my chance to dive headlong into truly living my version of “the simple life.” For the first time in almost 20 years, I wasn’t restricted to the paramilitary confines of government work, and I was free to do anything I wanted. Anything I wanted!! To be honest, I initially didn’t even know how to process that idea, as it was a completely foreign concept to me.
I was incredibly fortunate that this opportunity to move to Texas coincided with the height of the seller’s market in Washington, and I made enough of a profit selling my house to purchase a modest home for cash on 1.75 acres in the middle of an unincorporated rural community. I was taking back my health (mentally and physically), and despite a significant loss of income, I was on my way to financial freedom for the first time in my adult life. Two legs of the “Three-Legged Stool” were coming together.
Flash forward to March 2022… It’s been nine months since I took the leap and left my comfort zone to pursue my “simple life” dream. People ask me all the time if I have regrets, and my honest answer is a solid “No way!” Some might say I’ve gone backwards in my life, giving up job security, a good paycheck, and a pension. And you know what? I’m just fine with that. Every morning I wake up feeling calm and grateful instead of stressed out and anxious. When I make my coffee, I look out my kitchen window and see wide open space with cows, goats, and horses in the distance. I appreciate the quiet, serene beauty of a rural existence, and so do my dogs. I live within my means, mortgage-free, and I have more abundance now than I ever had at the height of my chaotic career-driven city life.
I know my journey in search of “the simple life” has been somewhat of a unique one. I don’t have kids or a family to support, so you’re probably thinking it’s been easier for me to take risks and dive into the unknown. While that may be true, it’s still downright scary (and a little crazy) to voluntarily give up a solid career and start over in your mid-to-late 40s, not once, but twice in a four-year period. My point is that it’s possible to give up what you thought was your dream to pursue something even greater and more personally fulfilling, even when the idea scares the crap out of you.
On a final note, my journey is far from over. You may have noticed I only mentioned achieving two legs of the “Three-Legged Stool” – optimal health and financial freedom. I strongly believe that having a life purpose is critical to finding true happiness. Helping people in some way has always been my primary focus, and being a good cop fulfilled that role in my life for many years. After leaving my law enforcement career, I struggled with finding a new purpose. It took several months and a lot of soul searching for me to figure out where I was headed next. Although I have a good job right now, and I’m grateful every day that it has brought me to this incredible place in my life, I know my purpose involves something greater, and I’m currently on the path of making my dream career come to fruition. Stay tuned for more on that in the future. Until then, keep on pursuing your own path to achieving “the simple life.” I promise it’s worth it.