How I made this happen (hint: it wasn’t luck!)

When I tell people that I’m finally heading out of the country after 10 years of working toward this goal, I get the funniest responses.

“You’re so lucky. I’m jealous. I wish I could do something like that.”

“You’re so fortunate to be able to do this. Most people will never get the chance.”

I am very lucky to have good health. And fortunate that no natural disaster or ‘act of God’  sidetracked my plan. I’m lucky to come from a country with generally high earnings, whose passport is widely accepted around the world.

But would you say “you’re so lucky” to someone who had worked for 10 years on their doctorate? Or to earn a military rank? Or achieve an athletic or career goal?

Yes, I feel slighted when 10 years of work, sacrifice, and single-minded dedication to a goal are waved away as if they’re nothing. But that’s not what bothers me when I hear “you’re so fortunate.” The troublesome thing about that statement is that it strips the speaker of power to achieve his/her own goals.

I am here to tell you that you can do whatever you want! I am living proof of that. If you give yourself 10 years to achieve your dream, and do what it takes to get there, then I don’t think there’s anything that’s out of reach. I did it while earning well below the poverty line and supporting 2 kids as a single parent — most people won’t have to make all the sacrifices I did to get where I am. (honestly, I was self-employed and earned between $16,000 and $24,000 most of those 10 years.)

Here are the steps I took to achieve this goal:

  • I haven’t owned a car that was less than 10 years old, or had a car payment, since I was 20 years old.
  • I have never paid a cable TV bill in my life.
  • I have never bought a home, or lived in a place bigger than 1000 square feet (even when I had a family of four)
  • I have never had internet on my phone.
Let’s pause here. Add up those four monthly expenses over the next 10 years of your life. How much could you save toward your goal? (Remember that money well-invested will double every 7 years.)

  • I have spent five years experimenting with various writing projects and publishing formats, and stuck with each one for over a year. even when they were earning only 30¢ a month.  I have built three blogs, a website, two Examiner accounts, a gig writing for CBS, a book, and a DVD.
How many low-paying writing gigs would you have walked away from? I needed to find those that would build to some kind of income over time. I wasn’t looking for a get-rick-quick scheme, I was looking for 5-10 revenue streams that will each generate $100 per month consistently when mature.
  • I have taught myself how to invest for maximum cash return. I read books, magazines, and websites, watched DVDs. Then I experimented with what I was learning, using fake portfolios at first,  then small ones, and finally real ones (see the first three bullet points if you want to know where I got money to invest).
  • I taught myself Spanish. And Italian. And Arabic. Not a lot… but enough to get by when I travel.
  • I learned how to track my finances, and watch my bottom line like a hawk — I check my net worth every single day. I watched it go from depressingly negative to zero to positive, and the faster it moved, the more motivated I was. I learned the difference between spending money on assets and just spending money.
  • I wasn’t a Spartan. I lived very well for my income (if you don’t count my cozy house and well-loved car).  I splurged on the things that matter to me… mostly my children, travel, art, dance workshops, perfume and great meals with friends. But I didn’t spend on late fees, interest charges, cable TV, car payments, full-coverage insurance, more house than I needed, or other large monthly expenditures. The net effect was a great life AND a growing bank account.
People who haven’t given up on their own dreams don’t call me ‘lucky’. They don’t pretend that my dream dropped into my lap by magic. They ask me, sincerely, how I did it. They genuinely want to break free. Honestly, that’s how it feels, like breaking free of society’s expectation that you will spend your money on the same thing your neighbors do, and live the same life they live. I joke all the time that I’ve unplugged myself from the Matrix and learned that those rules only applied to me because I bought into them. Once you’re free, you can make your own rules.
The rules say you have to spend your money on a big house and a shiny car, and spend your free time and money watching a giant television set with a thousand channels.
You don’t have to live by those rules if you don’t want to.
Here are the tough questions you should ask yourself:
  • How do you spend your time and money on a daily basis?
  • How much do you spend each month on your TV, your car, your cel phone, fast food, beer, clothing?
  • Are those the things that matter most to you?
  • Are you spending money to help/support adults around you who should be pulling their own load? Do you need to start expecting and demanding that these people step up to the plate and stop draining your resources?
  • How do you spend your time after work? Are you learning new skills, researching your dream? Or are you watching your expensive TV?
  • Is your dream important enough to you to focus your efforts and finances toward it?
  • If not, could you at least change your language to something more empowering? Stop saying “I can’t…” and start saying “I have so far been unwilling to do what it takes to …” or “I haven’t been willing to make the necessary sacrifices” or “I wanted to do that, but decided it wasn’t worth the effort to me in the past.”  This at least allows for the possibility to make different choices in the future.
I’ll talk about several of these topics in more detail in future posts. Until then, remember — your life is your own creation, and you will get out of it what you put in.

Published by Lauren

I'm a nomadic freelance writer, out enjoying the world!


  • Marsha Hale

    March 18, 2013 at 2:11 am

    Someone told me once that you make your own luck and that it takes hard work. People don’t want to work and sacrifice for things. You said once when you were going on a trip that people could travel if they didn’t but the big flat screen tv. That got me thinking, what you are doing now has inspired me. If I didn’t have bills I would be someplace else.

  • Lauren Zehara

    March 18, 2013 at 3:14 am

    It is awesome to think I’m inspiring people! It’s true, on average I spend about $1000-1500 on a 10 day overseas trip. Most people spend that on much on their annual cable bill, or have even spent that on their TV set itself. It’s not hard for me to choose (but I realize other people have different priorities).

  • Anthea Kawakib Poole

    March 18, 2013 at 1:34 pm

    looking forward to your trip 🙂 have a safe, good time!

  • Darin Powell

    March 18, 2013 at 3:50 pm

    This is a fantastic post, Lauren. And I know personally the hard work and effort you have put in realizing your dream. This was not an accident, and I am inspired by it.

  • Melody "Lil Mel" McGowan

    March 18, 2013 at 5:28 pm

    Lucky? Not a word I would use to describe the woman who was my teacher for 3 years and now my friend. Determined, Committed, Dedicated, Hard-working, Goal-Orientated, Inspiring, Talented, Beautiful, Amazing, Fabulous…are but a few that come to mind! Lucky is not one of them!

  • Lauren Zehara

    March 20, 2013 at 6:00 pm

    Awww, Mel, thank you! The admiration is mutual, for sure!