Meet Terra Heilman. Terra quit her job to strike out on her own in the area of waste reduction. Terra shares how she hugged her fear and took the leap and also has some supremely helpful advice for those of you who may be struggling to take that first step!
Tell us a little about yourself
My name is Terra Heilman and I am very interested in helping people live a little lighter on this planet. I have a B.S. in Wildlife Science from Oregon State University and did outdoor and environmental education for years. I had an experience with a waste exchange while studying abroad in New Zealand and it always stuck with me.
In 2006, I started looking to enter the world of waste and in 2007, I got a job with a garbage hauler as a waste reduction specialist. I spent the next 6.5 years educating my community on proper recycling procedures. The more I learned about recycling, though, the more I realized that while recycling helps to lighten the environmental footprint of our purchased goods, there were other much more impactful decisions and behaviors that humans could employ to be a little more friendly to our environment.
What was one thing that you were scared to do and did anyway? And what exactly scared you about doing that one thing?
My scary thing was quitting my job to strike out on my own.
I would say the scariest thing about that decision was the financial piece of the question. If I quit a stable job, could I make it on my own? Would I be able to pay my bills? If I stayed, would it slowly kill me? What if I left and did…nothing? What if I couldn’t make it on my own?
What did you do or what happened to help you ultimately hug your fear and do that thing?
A lot of factors helped me make the decision.
The first and foremost was that I had a mental break in February of that year. I had gotten to the point where I just couldn’t face getting up each morning and spending 8+ hours a day in a cube any more. I’m the type of person who gets bored very easily. Basically, once I master something, I need the next thing to tackle or I become stagnant and depressed. I realized that my position wasn’t challenging me anymore and I needed to do something about it.
Some other factors that ultimately helped me were preparation and research. I started to save money (I’ve always been pretty good about saving anyway.) and would find myself having internal conversations that went something like: “If I made absolutely NO money, how long would these savings carry me? Then what?” I had lots of conversations with others about my talents and about “jobs” that I could do if I got desperate, financially speaking. I knew I had skills that I could fall back on and it helped to have my friends and family confirm those thoughts with me.
Finally, my partner was a huge piece of the puzzle. We’re extremely lucky in that around the same time I quit, he took on more responsibility (and a larger paycheck) at his company and that has allowed us to live this new lifestyle. I pay less of the monthly bills, but I also spend more of my time doing things around the house-cooking, cleaning, etc-some of which we used to pay for or argue over.
Are there any books, practices or other resources that helped and/or continue to help you hug your fear?
Again, I would say preparation and research. I read a lot of blogs, articles, books, etc that help me to tackle what I’m currently working on. I also have a few partners that are helping me in different ways.
What would you say to someone who wanted to do something that scared them, but was struggling to take a step?
Do your prep and then jump.
Part of your prep should be to see if there’s any baby steps you can take RIGHT NOW that will move you closer to your goal. Break it down into distinct steps and prioritize them.
For instance: I had the idea that I might be able to work part time at my old job. Unfortunately, the company didn’t ultimately take me up on my offer, but it was a step in the direction that I wanted to be headed. I had gotten to that point of “I can’t keep doing what I’ve been doing,” so when I tried to change my situation and it didn’t work, it forced me to come up with another plan.
I would also say that no matter how much prep and/or research you do, the decision will still be scary. I told everyone that asked me that my decision was equal parts terrifying and exciting. And it was! It was never 100% exhilarating or 100% terrifying. I could see some people be so scared of the decision that they just get stuck in dreaming, wishing or even the research phase forever. That would be really sad, I think.
We have a very short time on this planet and we better do our best to enjoy it. If you’re stuck in a dead end job or a bad relationship or ________ (you fill in the blank) the only person that can make the decision (ultimately) to get you out of it is you.
Another piece of advice: You’ll be amazed at the amount of people who will be around to cheer you on when you make the leap. I had a few people say negative things to me about my decision, but mostly, it was support and love from all around me.
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
I’d like to mention the 21 hours report. This report literally changed my life and got me to start thinking about climate change, sustainability, under employment, over work, etc as interconnected issues and inspired me to start looking at living the 21 hours “lifestyle.” I now (as I mentioned earlier) take time to do things like can fresh produce, make a large majority of our meals, shop at the farmer’s market, etc. These are things that I didn’t always have the time for when I worked 40+ hours a week. Not only do I enjoy doing them, they are lightening the environmental burden that our household puts on the planet. I also find inspiration in Dan Pink’s work.
So that’s Terra’s story. What do you think?
Here’s what stood out to me. Terra touches on what I have found to be the backbone of hugging your fear: planning, lots of support and action. She shows it by her example of how she reached her scary goal, but she also shows it in the words of wisdom she has for all of us.
I started highlighting Terra’s answer to my question about what she would say to someone struggling to take that next step and realized I had highlighted the whole thing! Re-read that section again and again, I know I will. Terra is spot on!
Until next time,